Strong leadership makes a great series producer: day 3 of NSI Lifestyle Series Producer bootcamp


NSI program manager Brandice Vivier is keeping us up to date on the NSI Lifestyle Series Producer bootcamp taking place in Toronto this week. Check out  day one and day two.

I have been fortunate over the course of my career to have worked with some truly amazing, talented, fun and generous people. But only a few of them have been true leaders. I thought about that a lot today.

What’s the difference between working for a great boss, and working for a boss who’s a leader? I have a hard time articulating that difference but can say that when you have a leader at the helm, it feels as if a load has been lifted off your shoulders. I feel lighter. I feel empowered and have more confidence even though I haven’t changed. I am better able to own how good I am at my job.

This is the what a great series producer does. They lead and empower a team. It may seem like I’m writing a lot this week about leadership but the more people we speak with the more I realize that the difference between a series producer and a great series producer is their leadership abilities.

The wonderful Al Magee spent the morning breaking down the five characteristics that make a true leader. Of course all those characteristics are important but two of them really stuck with me: always do what is expected of you even if you didn’t agree to it, and always model the way with your behaviour. As goofy as it sounds, I think the reason these stuck with me is because these are behaviours I aspire to in my everyday life: at home with my kids and husband, at work, with friends, with strangers. I say aspire because it takes an incredibly special person to be a great leader. I’m have a long way to go before I’m there.

The leadership conversation seamlessly transitioned into how to have difficult conversations and strategies for dealing with them gracefully. I have had many difficult conversations over the years and three things are certain:

(1) You always imagine it will be worse that it actually is

(2) You always feel way better after you’ve had it

(3) The air will have been cleared afterwards allowing for a resolution to the issue that called for the difficult conversation in the first place.

I will definitely be employing Al’s tools for having them in the future. The catch 22 here is that I need to have more difficult conversations in order to get better at having them. I haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or not. Maybe if I convince myself it’s character building …

We moved onto lighter topics in the afternoon but by no means less important or relevant.

Maria Armstrong, an incredibly smart, savvy and experienced executive producer took time away from running Love it or List it to put on a few different hats and talk to the group [of NSI Lifestyle Series Producer students] about dealing with the network (she was formerly director of original productions at W Network so she knows of what she speaks). She wore her ‘production executive’ hat, her ‘executive producer’ hat and her ‘series producer’ hat. The upshot of the conversation was put incredibly simply: you, as series producer, need to work with your production executive at the network in a highly collaborative way to deliver the show you promised. You are a producer. Produce your product, make the network look good and bring in ratings so the sales team at the network can sell ad time which brings in money to the network. It’s a business.

Speaking of business, Jamie Brown, CEO of Frantic Films, managed to make two hours of talk about the business of producing (budgets, cash flow, CAVCO regulations and financing structures) lively. No small feat. The conversation naturally turned from budget management (an art Jamie seemed far too excited about) to producing lifestyle television and how to build in produceable moments. You can plan as much as you want but so much of what makes lifestyle television great is its unpredictability.

Produceable moments are when you control the moment and its outcome in a way that brings value to your show in an authentic way. It’s really an art. I watch lifestyle television all the time but had never looked at it quite this way before. I’m going to see it with different eyes now.

And last but not least, the final session of the day will also guarantee that I watch lifestyle television with fresh eyes. We had a great conversation about deconstructing shows looking at Bachelor Canada and How to Look Good Naked. What fun! I’m almost tempted to watch Bachelor Canada tonight if only to participate in the conversation tomorrow with everyone. I seem to be the only hold out. Go figure.

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